Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Politics, Not Pragmatism, Led to U. of Calif. Vote, Say Observers

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Politics, Not Pragmatism, Led to U. of Calif. Vote, Say Observers

Article excerpt

Politics, Not Pragmatism, Led To U. of Calif. Vote, Say Observers.

SAN FRANCISCO -- "I am personally appalled by the University Regents' decision to do away with affirmative action. This was such a political issue on their part.

"Long after [Regent] Ward Connerly and [Gov.] Pete Wilson have gone off the scene, I am afraid that UC may go down in history for abolishing affirmative action in California," said Jacqueline Mimms, assistant vice chancellor for campus relations at the University of California's Riverside campus, and the institution's highest ranking African-American administrator.

Mimms' comments came one day after UC regents voted to end the system's longstanding affirmative action policies on admissions, contracts and hiring following a turbulent 12-hour meeting in which more than 70 people testified.

UC regents voted 14-10 to drop race-based admissions at the nine-campus system and 15-10 to halt affirmative action hiring at what many consider the nation's most socially progressive public university systems.

The proposal to end the affirmative action policies was introduced by Connerly, a Wilson appointee and African-American businessman who argued that preference programs have a racially polarizing effect on the nation and need to be halted.

The decision was seen as a victory by forces working to roll back affirmative action programs around the nation. Among those leading the charge is California Gov. Pete Wilson (R), who has made repealing affirmative action programs one of the major planks of his 1996 presidential campaign.

Wilson set the tone for the controversial debate when he asked at the start of the meeting, "Are we going to treat all Californians equally and fairly? Or are we going to continue to divide Californians by race?

"[This vote] means the beginning of the end of racial preferences," Wilson later said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a possible presidential contender, addressed the regents urging them not to abandon affirmative action. He later joined other activists in disrupting the meeting with chants and singing.

The regents' votes came a day after President Clinton pledged his support for affirmative action programs.

Disappointed demonstrators, including hundreds of students, religious leaders and activists, linked arms and sang, "We shall Overcome."

Police in riot gear also surrounded the building on the UC campus as demonstrators outside yelled "Shame! Shame! Shame!" Earlier a bomb threat forced an evacuation of the meeting room for 40 minutes as the regents neared the first vote.

Several people, including the Rev. Cecil Williams, a long-time San Francisco civil rights activist, were arrested when they staged a sit-in at the entrance to the UC campus.

Affirmative action policies in the workplace and on college campuses have been debated for some time, but some critics say that they have not been clearly articulated in a way that can be understood and supported.

The new policy eliminates race and gender as a factor in admissions beginning in 1997 and in hiring and contracting as of 1996. It also raises from 40 percent to 50 percent the minimum percentage of students admitted on the basis of grades to the system's nine campuses.

According to some policy analysts, it is still hard to predict the results. Charles Ratliff, deputy director of the Sacramento-based California Secondary Education Commission, said, "We are disappointed because some students will be denied access to all of the UC campuses, not just their first choice."

J. Owens Smith, president of the California Black Faculty and Staff Association and chair of Afro-Ethnic Studies at California State University at Fullerton, argued that "eliminating affirmative action will not help white students one iota. The problem is that many white males are ineligible because they are not taking college preparatory courses. These courses require a lot of work. …

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